There are many stories to be told in the Bioshock Universe, so many mysteries left unanswered. When we first entered the original Bioshock and the city of Rapture we encountered something truly terrible, the collapse of society. After first being treated to Andrew Ryan’s speech about his perfect city we expected to see a bright bustling city that fit his words, what we were treated to however was a nightmare, a city clasped by madness, by destruction. Through the game we received some of the key details which explained this fall but there were still some details left unclear such as how the city looked before, how these people thought and how people lived. Bioshock Infinite’s addition of alternate dimensions has opened up more room for stories and information and Burial at Sea plays on this to bring us more to the original Rapture story.
Burial at Sea places us in Rapture before the events of the original Bioshock, it is 1959 Rapture is still yet to fall and is a city on the rise filled with all the idealism that was spouted all through Bioshock. The city is brimming with life, the idealistic views of Andrew Ryan are spouted through the streets and the city shines with color and vision.
Burial at Sea places us back in the familiar role of Booker De Witt, in this reality Booker is a detective living in Rapture on the search for a missing girl named Sally. Booker is at a loss as he tries to figure out what became of Sally when a mysterious women walks through his office door with information on Sally’s whereabouts. The mysterious women is revealed to be Elizabeth who has come to Rapture for unknown reasons but has sought out Booker to help find Sally. The general plot is filled with a familiar mystery like previous games and gently urges you forward to discover all its secrets.
One of the first things I noticed with Burial at Sea is that this is not the same Elizabeth we knew back in Bioshock Infinite. The plot of the source game may have changed her and darkened her original innocent demeanor but this was not the same Elizabeth we knew from before. There is a certain coldness to Elizabeth this time around, a certain change in general attitude, in part this could have been because of the plot but Elizabeth seemed off the entire time. In a way this was not a bad thing, right from the start Burial at Sea sets up a noir vibe in its story as it pushes darker characters through a much darker game.
A nice thing with Burial at Sea is the life in Rapture, in previous visits we have been through a dark city, one that has surpassed its heyday and is falling apart with its former citizen’s now horrible creatures that stalk the city obsessive and crazed. Before all this they were humans looking to seek better lives and where is better than Rapture a city that is about the person, and we get to see these people’s lives first hand. We see them hanging around the city streets, living their lives, holding conversations about politics and the city of Rapture, these people often acted as a source of information in the beginning of the episode as they explained where in time the events were set.
Irrational Games has changed things up from Bioshock Infinite, some of the key gameplay features of Infinite have been removed in favor of simulating an experience somewhat similar to Bioshock and Bioshock 2. One change is very much an obvious one, Vigors were a product of Columbia so if they existed in this Rapture just to fit with Bioshock Infinite they would make no sense. In order to stick with the context of Rapture Vigors and salts have been changed to Plasmids and Eve, it is a silly little detail but I am glad they changed it to reflect the city we were in.
The big feature I liked them fixing was the ability to hold a bigger variety of weapons, instead of only being able to carry two weapons we got the weapon wheel back. Every weapon we find is once again constantly available for use so you can switch out on the go as you run out of ammunition. In Infinite it was strategic to rely on two weapons and switch as you needed them, it forced you to think about your own skill, Burial at Sea however works better with this system having access to multiple weapons.
However, just because we have weapons does not mean the game actually encourages you to have an all-out shoot out, without seeking out money (which is not easy to come by) to spend on ammunition, bullets are sparse and are more reliant on you thinking about your approach in combat. Compared to previous games in the Bioshock franchise which push for action in high powered gun fights, Burial at Sea is a shock to the system as the game constantly encourages you to think before you act, to avoid enemy’s line of sight. In a sense this was a really good thing, but at the same time it is also awful and annoying, having to think about your approach when taking out enemies takes a certain strategic merit which is fun when you can get it to work. The problem is Burial at Sea does not really introduce any good stealth mechanics, once you hide to avoid detection there is no way to peer out without being caught by an enemy looking in your direction, likewise unless enemies were speaking I rarely could work out where they were so I had to hope they did not decide to randomly walk into where I was hiding.
It is possible to go in guns blazing, but as I said earlier ammunition and money are scarce, the game thrives on making you feel weak and constantly reminds you that this isn’t the Booker from Infinite and we are not quite as strong. Also, all the vocal cues provided by Elizabeth all tell you be stealthy as she points out enemies, she never yells orders for you to fight it is always about getting down and taking a thoughtful approach.
After finishing the first episode of Burial at Sea all I could think was that I was more confused than ever before about Bioshock. The game tended to open up more questions than it ever answered, I assume that the second episode might clear some of these problems spanning the original Bioshock and Infinite but still there are many questions without answers. Dimensional and time paradoxes cause a lot of confusion and there are many points that made no sense with the previous lore we have received through the other games. Furthermore, while I like some of the plot twists which are reminiscent of the source game (in this case Bioshock Infinite) things just seemed really confusing.
The biggest problem I had with Burial at Sea Episode 1 is just how short it is, before getting into the meat of the game you can lose an hour to just seeing Rapture in its glory. This hour is being generous as you explore every nook and cranny of the small part of Rapture we are dropped into, on the whole our time spent seeing Rapture in its heyday is shut off far too quickly and I can’t help but feel that more could have been done, that we could have seen more. Then the game just drops you into the same dark and dead environments the original Bioshock was known for, the heyday Rapture is gone as fast as it arrives before we are dropped into the familiar setting we have come to know.
Once you get into the main area things seem over as fast as they begin, sure there are divulging paths to explore and things to uncover but things just ended quicker than they should of. Without spoiling anything the end is the worst part, the game provides you with story plots which in the grand scheme of things just seemed pointless, we may have have been given a brief glimpse at other realities but then the game just ends.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 1 does a lot to deliver fan service with the likes of Rapture revisited in its heyday, seeing the world as it was intended and seeing the people exist in a solid state of mind. But when it comes to the game itself things just seem to fall apart, while the game has some solid ideas which can be fun, on the whole it becomes more annoying when the game pushes you with a new idea and does not provide the proper tools to use effectively. It is worse though when I exit this game more confused than ever about the franchise with more questions opened then answered, but at least it does have me excited to see where the plot is heading next.